David Fixler is a Principal of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering P.C.
Preparing for Practice:
1. Specialized programs are typically both responses to the practical needs of the market and ways in which to influence design and market trends. This trend is likely to continue and to encourage greater specialization, but I believe that there is a core body of knowledge with which every advanced design professional needs to be conversant in order to successfully manage and design complex projects. It will become increasingly necessary, however, for all but a rarified few designers at the top of the profession to develop one or more particular specialties.
2. Since the separation of architecture and engineering at the end of the 18th century, the nature of the profession has become continuously more fragmented and diversified. There is no doubt that we continue to have a residual attitude toward the architect as the Master Builder, the person who is ultimately responsible for the artistic, intellectual and technical content of a project, whether or not this competency is appropriately still placed in one individual. Ideally, specialization should only be pursued over the foundation of a strong general background, as it is extremely difficult to conceive and execute good architecture without a strong initial vision that can be carried through the phases and processes necessary to get a building built. This vision can only come from someone or group of people who can see and understand the large picture from start to finish.
3. Yes, specialization creates niche markets and specialties which individuals can focus upon in order to distinguish themselves, and there is no doubt the desire for niche recognition constantly creates new areas of specialization.
1. The generalist still exits, but the successful generalist usually gravitates to specialized niches based upon completed work. The exception again is the ‘Starchitect’ – though even they have really just become specialists in one type or another of design. In competing for quality institutional, government or commercial work, what often wins the day is an office that can demonstrate specialized competencies in a culture that understands the continued needs for an overarching generalist approach.
2. This is the most interesting and provocative of your questions. Many argue that architecture, as cultural production has been sidelined since the advent of the industrial revolution, and that this marginalization has become particularly acute in the information age. We must recognize that architecture is transforming, and that the best architecture above the scale of the residence will probably continue to become increasingly specialized. What I think will become more dominant is emphasis on the integration and collaboration of diverse teams of specialists to produce an optimal product. Whether one considers the visionary(ies) of the group specialists in this regard could certainly be argued, but that person or persons will have to be able to bring a broad cultural and intellectual knowledge base to bear in order to sustain and realize such a vision.
3. I think the schools need to do both – to impart the gifted designer with management skills, and the gifted manager with an advanced sense of aesthetics and the nature of design practice. Having said this however, I believe that the continued emphasis on design in academia should remain – there is simply not enough time in practice to devote the kind of concentrated energy necessary to begin to grasp design skills without having a solid bases upon which to draw – design requires immersion. Management is less abstract and more experience based and can consequently be better learned in practice or with supplemental training.
4. I think that the AIA is genuinely concerned with where the architecture market is heading, but I do not sense any strong desire on either the part of architects or clients to legislate specialization – but maybe I’m naïve…..